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The Holy Land’s Christian Targets
By
 Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine. com | Friday, February 22, 2008

Showcasing the vulnerability of Gaza’s tiny Christian community, a dozen or
more gunmen, some of them masked, blew up the library of the YMCA in Gaza
City
last week, while holding the YMCA’s security guards at gunpoint. The
Gaza YMCA, which welcomes both Christian and Muslim youngsters, was
someplace where men and women were free to interact together, offending many
radical Islamists. Possibly the gunmen, who attacked shortly after midnight,
were also reacting to the re-publication in Denmark of the famous Muhammad
cartoons. A second bomb left by the gunmen in the YMCA’s office failed to
detonate.

Reportedly, the YMCA’s security guards were asked why they work for
“infidels.” The facility includes a school, an athletic center, a wedding
hall, and the destroyed library, where all 8,000 or more books were
incinerated. The YMCA has been in Gaza for 55 years.

A Catholic priest told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the local,
Hamas-controlled media had been inveighing against the Danish cartoons since
their reappearance. “When you are in a very conservative Muslim society you
can’t.[easily] live an open life,” said Rev Manuel Musallam. ENI is the
official news service of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC),
which is not normally very interested in reporting the crimes of radical
Islam.

But most of Gaza’s 3,500 Christians are Greek Orthodox, a church that
prominently belongs to the WCC. The Eastern Orthodox communions sometimes
persuade the WCC to give at least some careful attention to the plight of
Christian minorities in Islamic-controlled, Middle East societies.

Naturally, the Fatah party accused its Hamas rivals of complicity in the
attack on the YMCA. And naturally, Hamas denied any involvement. Others
faulted al-Qaeda supporters, who have proudly claimed responsibility to
previous attacks on Gaza Christian targets. Their professed goal is to purge
Gaza of all Christians. On the same day as the bombing, thousands of
Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp marched against the endlessly offensive
Danish cartoons re-publication.

Understandably, the YMCA’s director was jittery about laying blame against
any specific Islamists. “We are living in an insecure situation for several
years [with the] Israeli attacks and the internal problems,” Issa Sabbah
told ENI. “The situation is complicated. ” He minimized religion as a reason
for the attack: “We need to take care, but we can’t stop working. We are
Arab Palestinian people. We are afraid of the general atmosphere but not
because of religion issues.”

Sabbah professed to the Associated Press that Christian-Muslim relations in
Gaza are strong and that the local police, who are of course
Hamas-controlled, were patrolling the YMCA premises and have promised a
thorough investigation. The YMCA director can’t be faulted for such public
optimism.

Probably more accurately representing the fears of Gaza Christians was a
teenager ENI quoted. “Everybody is scared,” she said, preferring not to be
named in print. “But still we went to the YMCA. There weren’t a lot of
people there. We don’t have any other place to go.” She told ENI that the
YMCA had been refuge from boredom and tension for young people. “Now we
can’t relax [even there] but what can we do?” she wondered. “There is a lot
more anti-Christian feeling now.”

Last month, the American International School in Gaza was attacked by a
rocket-propelled grenade, destroying an art hall. Two pro-al Qaeda groups
eagerly claimed public credit. “Polytheists and enemies of Islam are
pursuing each day their work to destroy our youths, who are falling by the
dozens into the swamps of vice and moral decadence,” declared the Army of
Believers-al- Qaeda in Palestine. “That is why we must re-establish the truth
and warn everyone who might try to corrupt our youths or try to open such
places of corruption.” The other group, called Warriors of Jerusalem, said
it was trying to wipe out the “last symbol of U.S. presence in the Gaza
Strip.”

By far, the most troubling terrorist assault for Gaza’s Christians was the
October 2007 murder of a Palestinian Bible Society worker who ran a
Christian bookshop that had been attacked earlier last year. Thirty year old
Rami Ayyad’s body was found stabbed and shot after he had been kidnapped.
Ayyad and his wife, who was pregnant, had two little children. Ayyad had
received earlier death threats and had been urged to convert to Islam. The
Hamas Interior Ministry denounced his murder as a “grave crime,” but there
have been no arrests.

“As Christians we know where he’s at,” Gaza Baptist Church Pastor Hanna
Massad told Cybercast News Service (CNS). “He’s in a better place [with
God].” But he said, “It’s painful for us.” The pastor implied that most of
Gaza’s remaining Christians would like to leave but cannot. Since the Hamas
putsch in 2006, both Egypt and Israel have closed their borders with Gaza.
“The Christians in Gaza are in tremendous fear for their lives,” an
anonymous Christian told CNS. “This is ethnic cleansing at its worst.”

Gaza’s Christian community is miniscule, and the crimes against it may seem
minimal compared to other more barbarous situations. But the drive by some
Islamists to cleanse Gaza of its long-standing and benign Christian
presence surely symbolizes the ferocity of jihadist rage.

 

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